Shannon Hodge moves from DC Charter School Alliance to KIPP DC

Last January, when Allison Fansler announced that she was stepping down as president of KIPP DC PCS I was shocked. After observing her in action with KIPP DC CEO Susan Schaeffler I thought that this was a perfectly matched professional team that would work together in perfect synchronization until they both transitioned to retirement. Ms. Fansler has spent 16 years at KIPP and in her disclosure of her pending departure stated that she made the decision to leave her position in 2019. The KIPP president said at the time that she joined the charter school network when it had two middle schools in 2007. KIPP DC now teaches over 7,000 students in 20 schools on 8 campuses.

KIPP performed a nationwide search for a replacement to Ms. Fansler but it turned out in the end to be an unnecessary exercise. The individual selected to be the next president is none other than Shannon Hodge, the current founding executive director of the DC Charter School Alliance. This is an outstanding selection.

Actually, I do not think being the head of the Alliance was the perfect role for Ms. Hodge. Although I applauded the choice, mentioning in 2020 that I consistently appreciated Ms. Hodge’s frequent testimony on front of the D.C. Council, I did not find her ubiquitous requests for additional funding to be her strong suit. I see Ms. Hodge more as a soldier fully enjoined in the battle to provide an exemplary education to those society has pushed away even from the margins. She is the paratrooper flying in to rescue Options PCS and then continuing her work with Kingsman Academy PCS. All with a smile on her face. I interviewed Ms. Hodge in 2017.

At a moment like this it is especially fitting to thank Josh Kern, the cofounder of Tensquare Consulting, who recognized the star potential in Ms. Hodge when he enlisted her help as the court-appointed receiver during the terribly tough days of the Options charter school debacle.

Yesterday’s broadcast of Ms. Hodge’s job change was carefully coordinated between the Alliance and KIPP DC, with both organizations sending out social media messages of the change within minutes of each other. However, the orchestration was not perfect as the news from the Alliance states that Ms. Hodge will be with them through October, while the KIPP release says that she is joining them in mid-August. The message from the Alliance reveals that Ariel Johnson, the group’s prior chief of staff, will become the interim successor to Ms. Hodge.

Exclusive interview with Lea Crusey, chair DC Public Charter School Board

I had the honor of meeting recently for an interview with Ms. Lea Crusey, recently elected chair of the DC Public Charter School Board.  Ms. Crusey got started right away.  “It has been an extremely busy time.  I am visiting as many schools as I can to see classrooms, students interacting with their teachers and more.”

I wanted to learn about Ms. Crusey’s professional background.  “I grew up with parents who were VISTA volunteers in 1969.  They taught me the importance of participatory democracy.  I grew up in Princeton, New Jersey and remember speaking at a school board meeting making an argument in opposition to a charter school application.” 

After receiving her bachelor’s degree at Claremont McKenna College, the PCSB chair began her career as a fourth through eighth grade teacher through Teach for America, following in the professional footsteps of her paternal grandmother and her own mom.  In fact, it was her own mother’s work teaching English as a Second Language at the local YMCA at night that made her realize that there were numerous children whose needs were not being met by traditional public schools.  After completing graduate school at the University of Chicago and working for a few years in transportation, she joined Michelle Rhee’s organization StudentFirst.  She found her work there fascinating, as she enhanced her upbringing in participatory democracy by attempting to advance public school reform to places like Jefferson City, Missouri and Des Moines, Iowa.  This was during the heyday of the Race to the Top competition run by the U.S. Department of Education.  One of her proudest achievements during this period was her contribution to the creation of the Missouri state-wide charter authorizing body.

After about two and a half years at StudentsFirst, a position as Deputy Director with Democrats for Education Reform brought her to D.C. working under Joe Williams, who was based in New York City.  After more than two years at DFER, she moved over to the U.S. Education Department as a senior policy advisor toward the end of President Obama’s Administration.  As is evident from Ms. Crusey’s resume, she is more than qualified to assume the position of chair of the DC Public Charter School Board.

I wanted Ms. Crusey’s opinion as to how well she thought the PCSB was operating.  She answered without hesitation.  “The DC charter board is the most effective charter authorizer in the country.  I have been on the board for four years.  Last year we released our three-year Strategic Roadmap.  We also managed the process around the recruitment and selection of our new excellent executive director Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis, and I am extremely proud of how it worked out.  We have an amazing opportunity now to fulfil the Board’s vision, which is to ensure that “every D.C. student receives a quality education that makes them feel valued and prepares them for lifelong learning, fulfilling careers, and economic security.”

I brought up the fact that the PCSB has begun the process of revising the Performance Management Framework.  I asked the leader of the charter board what the intended outcome of this review would be.  “The goal,” Ms. Crusey detailed, “is to allow our oversight body to have good information to evaluate the quality of our schools.  Having a summary rating for a charter is important, however, now that there are very few Tier 3 schools remaining, there are a number of Tier 2 institutions.  We want to understand how we can move the needle.  Our concern had been mostly around the middle school framework that relied heavily on standardized test scores.  Staff has worked hard to account for demographic and socio-economic differences in the student bodies between charters.  One aim for the final accountability tool is to be able to disaggregate student population measures.  Our belief is that if a school is able to create great gains with a hard to reach student population, then we should celebrate this amazing accomplishment.”

I then inquired about new members being added to the PCSB as there are now only four [as of the time of our interview].  Ms. Crusey informed me that shortly Shantelle Wright, known primarily as the founder and CEO of Achievement Prep PCS; Shukurat Adamoh-Faniyan, executive director of D.C. Reading Partners and former exectuvie director of Democracy Prep PCS and Imagine Southeast PCS; and Nick Rodriguez, CEO of Delivery Associates, will be joining the board in July bringing the body back up to its full complement of seven officers.  “There is a lot going on,” Ms. Crusey added.

The PCSB last year paused the new school application process for a year as well as enrollment increases.  I asked the chair the purpose behind these moves.  “The questions around where the Performance Management Framework lands, how many tiers we end up with, the way that we define excellent schools, are at the heart of what we do.  We have a broad range of student achievement coming out of the pandemic.  We acknowledge that there are gaps around the academic offerings at different schools.  Our mission around equity means that we need to address the unique needs of all students.  We are now addressing how we approve new schools and allow others to grow in light of our revised framework of how we evaluate quality.  Simultaneously, D.C.’s population growth is uncertain.  We need to understand how these shifts are impacting the delivery of public education.”

Ms. Crusey then became philosophical, allowing her passion for her life’s work to shine through.  “It would be easy to think that the actions this board has taken are politically based,” the PCSB chair asserted, “however, everything we do in our work is determined by data.  Our principal mission is to serve children.  We need to be realistic about what the future looks like and how to meet those needs.  I’m extremely excited to see the outcome of our efforts.  How will the new accountability framework help drive quality?  We need to have equitable access to schools.  There must be sufficient capacity.  We are wrapping up community conversations and focus groups that will inform the revisions we make to the charter evaluation tool.  Soon we will be onboarding new board members.  We want to have a cohesive group that successfully continues the implementation of the Strategic Roadmap and the new accountability tool.  We understand that D.C. public charter schools are a place where every student thrives and prospers, especially those furthest away from opportunity.”

I noticed that during the June monthly meeting that the board was now considering allowing schools to offer a virtual option.  I asked why this choice for families had not been offered earlier.  Ms. Crusey responded, “We needed to get some clarity from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education on virtual attendance.  All schools are eligible to apply.  There are significant operational challenges to teaching online.  We are supporting Dr. Walker-Davis’s leadership in this area.”

Finally, I wanted to know how the PCSB was doing during this phase of the pandemic.  “We are making strong advances,” Ms. Crusey informed me.  “Staff is coming into the office a couple of days a week.  We are making plans to once again hold our monthly meetings in person.  I just have to say that Dr. Walker-Davis has done an amazing job transitioning into her job during Covid and bringing fresh new talent to the charter board staff.”

Rick Cruz’s term ends on D.C. charter board

I was especially eager to tune into last night’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board. I had seen the social media announcements that three new members would be joining the board at this session. The charter board had been down to three directors for over six months and people were wondering if Mayor Muriel Bowser would ever submit nominations for replacements. The new additions are Shukurat Adamoh-Faniyan, executive director of Reading Partners and former executive director of Democracy Prep PCS and Imagine Southeast PCS; Nick Rodriquez, CEO of Delivery Associates; and Shantelle Wright, who needs no introduction.

While DC PCSB executive director Michelle Walker-Davis expressed a couple of times Monday evening about how happy she was to have a full complement of board members, it was announced by chair Lea Crusey that this was the last meeting for Rick Cruz.

This previously undisclosed news then resulted in a roundtable of compliments for Mr. Cruz’s volunteer work over eight years at the charter board by Dr. Walker-Davis and all of the other members of the PCSB. The accolades are well deserved. Mr. Cruz’s tenure on the board, which included two years as chair, was characterized by the same steady leadership and respect for others that defined the leadership of previous individuals who have had this position including Tom Nida, Skip McCoy, Brian Jones, and Darrin Woodruff. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Cruz a couple of times when he headed the board and found him to be approachable and kind. I also had the chance to talk to him when he was chief executive officer DC Prep PCS. He is one of only two people I have had conversations with who have held two important roles in our local charter movement. The other is Josh Kern, who I interviewed as founder and managing partner of TenSquare Consulting and as co-founder and executive director of the Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School.

Mr. Cruz thanked everyone for their kinds words. He remarked that he found his efforts on the board to be the most important role he has played. He then added that he felt that the board had accomplished much during his time of service but that there was much more to be done. I could not agree more. Here is my list:

  1. Solve the charter school permanent facility issues. The pandemic has provided an excellent opportunity to set aside commercial real estate for use by charters,
  2. Increase the number of charters by having the DC PCSB rapidly approve school replications and expansions, and significantly raise the number of new schools approved to open. The greater the number of families who send their children to charters, the more advocates for our sector we have,
  3. Settle once and for all funding inequities between charters and DCPS. The newly planned update to the Adequacy Study should play a key role here, and
  4. Close the academic achievement gap. The board can play a tremendous part here. Expand those schools that have figured out how to get this done. Close those that are not doing their part. This includes DCPS sites.

The fact that the level of learning between affluent and low income kids continues to demonstrate a wide gulf of difference after hundreds of millions of dollars has been spent for school reform in the nation’s capital should make our blood boil. Morally, we cannot sit back and do nothing. Do not blow it.

Making the impossible, possible at The Children’s Guild Public Charter School

I have to say it has been years since I have become so emotional during a visit to a charter school.  But there I was in the highly hospitable company of The Children’s Guild PCS principal Bryan Daniels, and Kathy Lane, chief education officer, listening to the story behind the school’s founding.  “Scott Pearson [past executive director of the DC PCSB] was not sure the board was open to another charter school in the district,” Mr. Daniels recalled, “but then we explained to him that our goal was to serve a student body of which fifty percent have disabilities, and his eyes lit up.”  As Mr. Daniels detailed, The Children’s Guild began operating in 2015 with 385 students in grades Kindergarten through eight, and get this, the charter opened with all grade levels at once.  This was definitely not the norm of a charter starting with a couple of grade levels and gradually adding additional classes to meet its enrollment target.  

“The first year was really tough,” Mr. Daniels explained.  “We had all of these children, half of which did have special needs.  We bus in all of our scholars, who come from each of the city’s eight wards, but mostly from 7 and 8.  OSSE was on-site, since they send ten to twelve buses a day, the charter board was here, and it was not going well.  We really thought we were going to have to re-evaluate what we were doing.  But we figured it out.  By the end of the first year, the PCSB was singing our praises.”

Ms. Lane revealed that the school’s parent organization, The Children’s Guild, has been around since 1953.  According to the group’s website it was founded by “Dr. Leo Kanner, father of child psychiatry and the discoverer of childhood autism; Dr. Matthew Debuskey, pediatrician; and Sadie Dashew Ginsberg, prominent child advocate.” The Children’s Guild, as specified by Ms. Lane, operates three charter schools, a preschool,  and three non-public schools in Maryland.  A common characteristic of The Children’s Guild schools, Mr. Daniels mentioned, is their provision of wraparound services, such as foster care, mental health care, psychiatry, trauma related services, and services for children and youth with autism and their families.  The Children’s Guild PCS is evaluated by PCSB on an alternative accountability framework due to the volume of students with disabilities served.  Mr. Daniels related that the charter was created to accept the students who were often unsuccessful in more traditional settings.

The school’s mission is to “use the philosophy of Transformation Education to prepare special needs and general education students for college, career readiness, and citizenship in their community by developing their critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills, self-discipline and a commitment to serve a cause larger than themselves.”  Mr. Daniels offered that this is accomplished by providing both an inclusionary model in a general education setting and through self-contained classrooms led by teachers with the support of dedicated aides.  “Our aim with the self-contained setting is to be much more therapeutic and allow these students to attend school with their siblings who may not require the same level of instruction,” Mr. Daniels said.  “The goal is to transition the self-contained students to a less separated environment.”

When I asked how the school can manage students with such variations in learning ability, most with their own Individualized Education Plan, the two leaders simultaneously looked me in the eyes with smiles on their faces and practically recited in union, “at the Children’s Guild we are here to make the impossible, possible.”

This is probably when tears started flowing down my face.  

The school sits off Bladensburg Road, N.E., in Ward 5.  The rented building is large for the school’s post-peak of the pandemic enrollment of 215 students.  The charter’s current enrollment ceiling is 450 pupils.  There are specialized rooms for social workers; physical, occupational, speech therapy; and some just so kids can expend their energy.  Colorful murals adorn all of the hallways and common spaces, making the walls come alive, infusing optimism as you traverse the structure.  The Children’s Guild’s work is centered around an organizational philosophy called Transformation Education (TranZed).  The model has eight pillars that include:

  • Value-Infused Culture,
  • Focus on Well-Being,
  • Enriched Environments and Experiences,
  • Brain Literacy,
  • Behavior Motivation Continuum,
  • Arts Enhancement,
  • Community Influence, and
  • Ownership Mindset

There seems to be no bounds to the depth of the program at The Children’s Guild.  Beside TranZed, Ms. Lane handed me her Culture Card, and its printed material includes the purpose of the school, seven Foundational Beliefs, and sixteen Workplace Expectations.  Among the expectations are, Number 6:  “Own it!,” Number 7:  “Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk,” and my personal favorite, Number 16:  “Make the Covert, Overt.”  I have a feeling that Mr. Daniels also especially liked this one as he repeated it to me several times throughout our conversation.  “We hold daily Culture Card meetings across all schools, programs and the corporate office each morning specially designed to focus on a discussion around each one of the expectations,” Ms. Lane commented.  I can tell by the worn nature of her card that the information contained within did not lack from being referenced.

The school’s principal spoke about the need for another location.  “There is ample room here but there is almost no area for parking, a lack of green space, and it is isolated from other parts of the city,” Mr. Daniels remarked. 

Mr. Daniels pointed out that the charter is now ready to “re-boot and grow.  Many families,” the principal asserted, “especially those living in Wards 7 and 8, did not want their children traveling very far during the pandemic.  This meant literally meeting the children where they were.  Teachers joined students in community centers, recreation centers, and libraries.  They volunteered to bring food to pupils’ homes. We created our own Meals on Wheels program. Each scholar was provided with a Chromebook and hotspot.  When kids did return, we established a hybrid model.”  The outcome of these heroic efforts of the leadership and teachers at the school cannot be underestimated.  “We have seen a 50 percent growth in academic achievement above grade level over the past two years,” Mr. Daniels asserted, “this included quantifiably a 60 to 65 percent increase in math and English language arts.”

It takes a special staff to reach this level of instruction and Mr. Daniels and Ms. Lane smiled most brightly when talking about the employees.  “Our teachers are 95 percent African American,” Mr. Daniels noted, “with 25 percent of them being males.  One hundred percent of our student body qualifies for Free or Reduced Meals.”

Professional development plays a significant role at The Children’s Guild in order to effectively work with D.C.’s most at-risk children.  “Continuing education for teachers occurs each week on Wednesdays and for two weeks before the school year starts.  The preparation includes in-depth training for working with students impacted by trauma,” Mr. Daniels remarked.

“Our enrollment used to include a homeless population of 25 percent,” Ms. Lane intoned, “but then during the pandemic, most members of this group unfortunately seem to have disappeared, despite our efforts to locate them.”

The principal is proud of what The Children’s Guild has been able to establish during its relatively short history.  “We are a place of love and comfort,” Mr. Daniels intoned.  “We once had a child who ran away from home.  She ended up on our doorstep because she felt safe here.”

Mr. Daniels and Ms. Lane have big plans for the future of The Children’s Guild.  Besides identifying a new facility, they would like to increase the quality of their offerings of drama, instrumental music, vocal music, and visual arts.  “We would eventually like to be a feeder school for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts,” Mr. Daniel asserted.  “In addition, perhaps one day we will even offer pre-school.”

With Mr. Daniel and Ms. Lane at the helm of The Children’s Guild, I came away from my visit to the Children’s Guild thoroughly believing that the sky is the limit.

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Department of Education partially eliminates annoying rules about charter school grant funding

In reaction to the outcry by many about new rules the Biden Administration was trying to impose regarding charters qualifying for money as part of the U.S. Education Department’s Charter School Program, the government has removed some of the most obnoxious provisions and kept one big one intact. According to a highly comprehensive story on this issue by Linda Jacobson of The74, gone are the requirements for charter schools to demonstrate collaboration with the local school district in order to receive funding to open or expand a charter. However, the Department would still like to see a “partnership” between the two entities. Also, the mandate to demonstrate a need for the school that will not take students away from the traditional public school system has been modified to allow for a charter to show a waitlist as well as other methods to illustrate a need for the school in order to qualify.

Ms. Jacobson explains the part of the rulemaking that is an obstacle for charters:

“Karega Rausch, president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, described the new rules as “workable,” but said he remains concerned about a requirement that new charters be racially and socioeconomically diverse — or explain why they’re not. The rule says operators must note how their charter school won’t ‘hamper, delay or negatively affect any desegregation efforts in the local community.’

The provision ‘places additional unnecessary and unwarranted burdens on schools proposing to serve large proportions of lower-income students and students of color,’ Rausch said. ‘And there is no clarity on what constitutes a valid desegregation effort and how applicants will know if any effort exists.’”

The other complication for access to the annual $440 million appropriation is that charters only have until August 5th to apply. Apparently, in the past those seeking these dollars have had at least four months to submit the necessary paperwork. This in itself could turn charter operators off about requesting this grant. Again from The74 piece:

“’The fact that they have taken some of our comments seriously indicates the power of advocacy,’ said Nina Rees, CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. But she added that if the added documentation required and the small window to apply ‘dampens interest’ in seeking the funds, that would be ‘victory for our opponents.’”

Washington Post editorial board takes 20 year U-turn on private school vouchers

A potentially dangerous change in opinion by the Washington Post editorial board revealed itself the other day in a column entitled, “The Supreme Court is eroding the wall between church and state.” The piece was decrying the United States Supreme Court’s decision regarding Washington State high school football coach Joseph Kennedy, who once led religious prayers at the fifty yard line after games. The Post editors commented on the court’s finding in Mr. Kennedy’s favor this way:

“A conservative Supreme Court majority is redefining the constitutional order — dismissive of Americans’ privacy rights, committed to dangerous pro-gun dogmas and, as the court showed twice this month, alarmingly permissive of mixing religion and government.”

It is not the newspaper’s opinion on Kennedy v Bremerton School District that I find worrisome. It is the concluding paragraph in its editorial that generates concern:

“Along with another court decision earlier this month, in which the justices ordered the state of Maine to finance tuition at religious schools under a statewide voucher program, the majority appears determined to rule in favor of those seeking to use government resources to advance their religious beliefs — and against those who object to dismantling the wall between church and state.”

Now, here is the problem. The United States Supreme Court has been a defender of the right of parents to utilize private school vouchers in sectarian institutions beginning in 2002, with Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the case in Cleveland, Ohio won by Clint Bolick when he worked for the Institute for Justice. Before that ruling was issued the editorial board made this argument:

“In principle, there is no reason why a carefully designed voucher program should offend the Constitution. The money is given to parents, not directly to schools, and it flows to schools only as a function of parental choices about where to send their children. In this sense, vouchers are not all that different from other programs the court has already upheld — though approving them is a step the justices have not previously taken. The key is for the justices to avoid using a broad principle that would allow more direct aid to parochial schools.”

The Post started writing editorials supporting school choice programs involving religious schools following my meeting with columnist Colbert King in the summer of 1999 in which I asked him to publicly argue in favor of a private school voucher plan for the District of Columbia. Mr. King was the deputy editorial page director from 2000 to 2007. This backing was critically important since public policy makers, include Supreme Court Justices, often read the Washington Post. The role of this newspaper in the national fight for increased school choice was recognized by Mr. Bolick in his book Voucher Wars in the aftermath of the Post editors coming out in opposition the the Milwaukee school voucher program:

“And only a few years later, the Post abandoned its reticence and became one of the nation’s most consistent and influential backers of school choice experiments,” (page 58).

The newspaper has stayed the course for two decades. Last year, the editorial board wrote one of its strongest defenses of school choice reacting to Congressional attempts to shutdown Washington D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program in a piece entitled, “Why are unions and Democrats so opposed to giving poor children a choice in schooling?” Please pay careful attention to the reference to religious schools.

“It is striking how some foes of the scholarship program — and here we think of D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) — see no inconsistency in their opposition to this program and their support for the $40 million DC Tuition Assistance Grant program, which provides funds for college. Like the opportunity scholarship program, DC TAG can be applied to private schools in the metropolitan area, including religious schools, but unlike the opportunity scholarship program, wealthy families (with incomes up to $515,000) are eligible. Where is the logic in supporting a tuition assistance program available to affluent D.C. families and not one that only benefits very low-income D.C. families? To be sure, the quality of the city’s public schools has improved since the program was enacted — perhaps in part due to competition from school choice — but that doesn’t mean that poor parents deserve no choice in where their children go to school.”

The Washington Post’s editorial board’s recent missive on the U.S. Constitution’s separation between church and state is potentially an extremely menacing precedent.

The education of George Parker, past president Washington Teachers’ Union

I had the distinct pleasure of attending the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s annual conference last week in Washington, D.C. It was an extremely well organized event, and I have to say that it brought tears of joy to my eyes to be among over 3,500 attendees meeting back in person. The last time that the Alliance did not hold their conference virtually was in 2019. It was amazing to hear so many participants talk passionately about the power of school choice.

My itinerary took me to three early morning lectures on the topic of charter school advocacy by former D.C. Teachers’ Union president George Parker. Mr. Parker explained to the audience that he had taught mathematics in traditional D.C. middle and high schools for thirty-three years before becoming head of the union in 2005. He held that position during the most transformative years of education reform in the nation’s capital. Adrian Fenty was elected Mayor in 2006 and he appointed Michelle Rhee the first Chancellor of DCPS upon taking office in 2007. By 2010, Mr. Parker, Mr. Fenty, and Ms. Rhee would all be out of their respective positions.

Mr. Parker would be voted out of his leadership post as a result of working with Ms. Rhee to reduce the power of teacher seniority and implement the IMPACT evaluation system that tied raises to student academic achievement. Both were groundbreaking highly controversial moves that would eventually be replicated throughout the nation. His cooperation with Ms. Rhee earned him the attention of American Federation of Teachers’ head Randi Weingarten, who, he informed those in the room, tried to sabotage his efforts.

The logical question is how did the president of a teachers’ union become a charter school supporter? Mr. Parker’s explanation sent a chill through those of us in the room. He related that as part of his role with the WTU he would sometimes get the opportunity to speak in front of students. After one such assembly a girl in the third grade came up to him and gave him a hug. He thought the action of the student was unusual, and so he asked her why she had approached him in this fashion. The pupil replied that it was because he stated that he would always work to support those in the classroom.

It was when he was driving in his car after the talk that Mr. Parker had a stunning realization. He faced the stark fact that he had just lied to these young people. He recalled that just that morning he had spent over $10,000 of union membership money to get an individual who should never have been teaching back in that role. He bravely decided on the spot to end his hypocrisy.

Mr. Parker’s story stands in sharp relief to the words of Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews. In an article yesterday entitled, “Don’t blame teachers unions for bad schools. Worry instead about inertia,” he writes,

“So, unions, like most of us, can be helpful or hurtful. But are they quashing attempts to make our schools better, as the [Wall Street] Journal suggests? My reporting on the most productive school reforms indicates they are not doing that.”

It is an abject affront to reality for Mr. Mathews to make this claim so I am not going to waste any words refuting his declaration. As Mr. Parker pointed out in one of his talks, “Unions do not have a fear of spreading false information.”

The world right now needs many more George Parkers.

Joe Bruno retires as founding president and CEO of Building Hope

Word just came across my email from Joe Bruno that after founding Building Hope twenty years ago he plans on retiring as president and CEO in 2023. Bill Hansen will succeed Joe at the organization.

I have known Joe for most of the two decades that he has led Building Hope. The period that I worked most closely with him was around 2012 during the acquisition of a permanent facility for Washington Latin PCS. At the time, Washington Latin was operating in three temporary sites, two of which were churches. As with any charter school facility project there were many ups and downs to being selected to take over the former Rudolph Elementary School in Ward 4 when I was chair of the school’s board. I remember going to visit former Ward 4 Councilperson Muriel Bowser at the Wilson Building with him to convince her that our school should be awarded the building through a Request for Proposal. Mayor Vincent Gray had another group in mind for the property. With Joe’s help we prevailed.

However, that was only the start. For weeks our board of directors and school leaders could not figure out the finances to cover the cost of the approximately $20 million dollars needed to renovate the former DCPS structure. I recall like it was yesterday being summoned over to Building Hope’s headquarters on 17th Street N.W. where Joe presented to me his out-of-the-box financial structure so that we could make our dream a reality for over 600 students from all eight of the city’s wards.

What he did for Washington Latin he had accomplished, and would continue to accomplish, for charters throughout the nation’s capital. It is really impossible to understate his contributions. When our movement started over twenty-five years ago banks could not understand what a charter school was much less imagine lending them money. Joe was able to convince them that not only should they provide funding but demonstrated that charters were one of the safest places to invest their resources.

His large warm Italian personality was always prominently on display at his home in Potomac where he held his annual Christmas parties for those of us involved locally in this exciting and critical mission to provide every child in D.C. a seat in a high quality classroom. I am sure he viewed what we were doing as one of the last civil rights struggles in America. However, I do not think he would ever mutter those words. He just kept doing what he did, finding buildings for schools that had little or no prior history, reputation, or cash. They simply had bold visions.

So many individuals I consider my heroes made the pilgrimage to Joe’s abode during those cold and dark winter nights, a coat in hand for the less fortunate kids in our community that was the admission price for the holiday event. It was not something you questioned doing. We went, to be a part of a celebration of Joe’s efforts.

Bill Hanson appears to be perfectly qualified as the next head of Building Hope. From today’s press release announcing the appointment:

“Mr. Hansen comes to Building Hope with extensive experience in the corporate, government, investment, social impact, philanthropy, and policy sectors. While serving as President and CEO of the Strada Education Network, he created the $2 billion national social impact fund, an organization that is dedicated to helping learners build more purposeful pathways to and from postsecondary education and into rewarding careers. Mr. Hansen was initially appointed as President and CEO of USA Funds, the nation’s largest guarantor of student loans, which he successfully managed and transitioned from its legacy business, and in doing so, created the platform to launch Strada.”

For a short period I went weekly to Joe’s house to join in a three-on-three basketball game held on his indoor hardwood playing field. I had to stop because afterwards I returned to my residence completely physically exhausted. It was impossible to keep up with Joe, on or off the court.

Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss completely misrepresents upcoming U.S. Supreme Court school choice decision

Last week, the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss wrote one of her “Answer Sheet” columns that was titled “Supreme Court Likely to Drop School Voucher Bombshell.” Ms. Strauss is referring to the case Carson v. Makin which will be ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court later this month. Here is a summary of the case: Maine issues educational scholarships to children to attend private schools when there is no local public school in the area in which they live. However, it prevents these vouchers from being used at religious institutions because the State believes it would then be violating the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Post reporter goes into hysterics to describe what would happen if the court decides in favor of the parents:

“In Carson v. Makin, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court is likely to require Maine officials to use public funding to subsidize religious teaching and proselytizing at schools that legally discriminate against people who don’t support their religious beliefs. A ruling in favor of the families would ‘amount to a license to outsource discrimination,’ according to Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s School of Education.”

She goes on:

“Welner also wrote that a ruling against the state could affect charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated. A Carson ruling in favor of the families may mean that states could be seen as ‘engaging in discrimination if they did not allow a church or religious entity to operate a publicly funded charter school as a religious school.’”

I was not exaggerating, was I? There are just three problems with her reasoning. The Supreme Court now has a perfectly consistent record of allowing public funds to go to religious institutions when they are providing a public function.

Year 2002: The Supreme Court ruled in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that parents could utilize private school vouchers to send their children to religious schools. The logic behind this finding was that the money for educating the students is going to the parents, not to support the school.

Year 2017: The Supreme Court ruled in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc., vs. Comer that funds Missouri was providing to enhance playgrounds at public schools could not be prevented from going to private religious institutions. As I pointed out at the time, the majority opinion stated that, “the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.” 

Year 2020: The Supreme Court ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that a Montana tuition school tax credit program could be utilized for children to enroll in parochial schools. In my post about this decision I included Chief Justice John Roberts’ comment that “The application of the no-aid provision discriminated against religious schools and the families whose children attend or hope to attend them in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the Federal Constitution.”

So now we have Carson. If history is any guide, then the Court will find in support of the Maine parents. By the way, this case, as well as Espinoza and Zelman were all argued by the libertarian Institute for Justice. Here comes another victory for this highly impressive group.

One final point. I have no problem with a charter school having a religious mission. I made the same argument when Center City PSC was created from the conversion of six Catholic schools. I have no doubt that the Supreme Court would support my point of view.

Public school reform advocates should vote for Muriel Bowser for D.C. Mayor

I have to admit that Robert White Jr.’s comments on public education scare me. As WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle pointed out, when the Mayoral candidate was asked during a May 4, 2022 debate as to whether schools should remain under the control of the city’s chief executive, he apparently answered in this way:

“We need a mayor who’s not just going to go to the easy talking points, but who’s going to get in the details. And this mayor has not gotten into the details. And that’s why she doesn’t have a clear understanding of why so many students are leaving our schools. Right now, 30% of elementary school students leave D.C. Public Schools before middle school. There is an urgent problem, and we need a mayor with a sense of urgency on public education.”

Mr. White’s vague answer on this critical issue brought a strong response from current Mayor Muriel Bowser, according to the WAMU reporter:

“D.C. residents want a mayor they can trust. And if your answer shifts depending on which way the wind blows, they can’t trust you with their kids. And the most important thing you have to do as mayor is provide mayoral leadership of the schools. I think it is a seminal issue in this race. And I think what we’ve heard are councilmembers who are equivocating and waffling. I’m straight forward.”

For close observers of the education scene in the nation’s capital, the unified opinion is that we cannot move backward to the time when the D.C. Board of Education ran the public schools. Going to a public school was dangerous then, and there was a distinct lack of pedagogy going on in the classrooms. The buildings were crumbling literally and figuratively. We just cannot allow this to happen after so much progress.

Mayor Bowser has been a supporter of public education reform but has not been as strong as charter school advocates have desired. She has consistently annually raised the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, the baseline money allocated each year to teach a student, but has lagged in her willingness to also increase the per pupil facility allotment. The most glaring weakness of her Administration has been the unwillingness to turn over surplus DCPS facilities to charter schools. While recent previous Mayors Adrien Fenty and Vincent Gray have given buildings in the double digits, I believe that Ms. Bowser has relinquished two. Her almost total avoidance of following the law when it comes to these structures resulted in an End The List Campaign in 2019 that mobilized the charter school community in an effort to force her to do the right thing.

The Mayor has also put pressure on the DC Public Charter School Board not to approve new schools. This is an area where the board has to find a way to stand up to her. Finally, she has been exceedingly slow to nominate replacement members to the PCSB.

Ms. Bowser has also been a steadfast supporter of continued operation of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the private school scholarship plan for low income children living in D.C. A 2017 letter from D.C. Chairman Mendelson to the U.S. Congress to bring an end to the vouchers was opposed by the Mayor, and interestingly, was not signed by Councilmember Robert White.

There is one aspect of Mr. White’s proposed education program with which I strongly agree. I have advocated, as he is doing now, that the Office of the State Superintendent should be independent of the Mayor. I think OSSE should be separated from political pressure. However, although we agree on this one concept, I do not believe that education reform would be in steady hands if he won the upcoming election. Despite her failings in the area of public education which I have documented, Muriel Bowser is my choice for Mayor.